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Alcohol Awareness Month: How Does Parental Alcohol Abuse Impact Children?

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This month, TFI Talks will feature a number of posts about alcohol in commemoration of Alcohol Awareness Month.

Every year, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness month in an effort to increase public understanding of alcohol, to reduce the stigma of alcoholism, and to draw attention to the impact that alcoholism can have on kids, families, couples and communities.

At TFI Talks, we’ll be posting information, insights and tips from one of our expert staff clinicians, Leah Brennan, LMFT, CADC.

Today, Leah Brennan describes the ways in which children are specifically impacted by their parent(s)’ alcohol abuse:

Evidence indicates that children in families where at least one parent misuses alcohol are more likely to experience the following:

Friendship difficulties (social isolation)
As they cannot predict how things will be at home, such as the presence, mood and behavior of their parents, children from these families will avoid inviting friends over to their home. In turn this makes it hard to accept invitations to friends’ houses. Children may avoid developing and or deepening friendships for these types of reasons.

Division between home and peers (avoidance)
As a child grows older they may deal with the problem by keeping their home and their social life very separate. This strategy may allow a child to socialize outside the home and develop a life away from the family, but carries its own difficulties and stresses. This coping mechanism is likely to mean that parents will know even less about the child’s non-home life and that the child will grow up learning to keep their home and social lives separate.

Other ways to think about how addiction impacts family members differently is to consider the differences between how functional families operate versus families impacted by addiction.

Some basic characteristics or rules of a healthy family system:

  • Self-worth is high.
  • Communication is direct, clear, specific and honest and feelings are expressed.
  • Rules and boundaries are flexible and appropriate to change.
  • It is natural to link and be open to society.
  • Each person has goals and plans to succeed and should be supported by the family.

Characteristics or Rules in a dependent or addicted family:

  • Dependent’s use of drug is the most important thing in a family life.
  • Blaming others, don’t make mention of it, covering up, alibis, demonstrating loyalty to the family by keeping the secret of addiction means the family enables the addict.
  • Nobody may discuss problem outside the family.
  • Nobody says what they feel or think.

Different family members can take on different roles in order to help the family manage and organize around the addict/addiction. Examples include; the Hero, the Scapegoat, the Mascot, the Lost Child, the Enabler, the Addict.


To learn more about Ms. Brennan or to make an appointment, visit her page on our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.



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